GREENWICH, N.Y. — There are many foods that come to mind when thinking of summer. Juicy watermelon slices, sizzling hot dogs on the grill, slowly melting ice cream cones, and more. Another that may come to mind is a refreshing glass of lemonade. This sweet and tangy drink has a long history and has been enjoyed by people across the world through the centuries.
It is believed that the lemon was first cultivated in the area of what is present-day northwest India. A fruit that is a relative of the lemon called a citron was used and eaten in the Ancient Near East. Frescoes and other artwork from Ancient Rome show citrus-like fruits that look like lemons and oranges, however there is no archaeological or written evidence that the Romans grew them. While it is possible, it remains uncertain. Regardless, citrus fruits of all kinds that were able to be obtained were enjoyed by the wealthy in the Mediterranean world and were a status symbol.
The first written evidence of lemons dates to the 10th century when the Arabic writer Qustus al-Rumi mentioned them in a book on farming. The earliest version of lemonade comes from this time period in Egypt with a drink called kashkab. Kashkab was a concoction of fermented barley, mint, rue, black pepper, and citron leaf. The medieval Jewish community in Egypt drank and traded another kind of lemon drink called qatarmizat. Also, the Islamic world at that time had a food item called sukkar wa-laymun musafirin which could be described as an early version of powdered lemonade. The item was made by adding lemon juice drops to crushed sugar which were then dried. When needed, the hardened drops were added to water to make for a sweet drink.
Lemonade eventually made its way to western Europe where it took on a form that more closely resembles today’s lemonade. The drink made its debut in Paris, France in 1630 and was an instant hit. This version was a combination of sparkling water, lemon juice, and honey. Vendors roved the streets of Paris with tanks of lemonade strapped to their backs selling lemonade to thirsty citizens. The drink became so popular and profitable that the lemonade vendors unionized in 1676 calling themselves the Compagnie de Limonadiers.
There is also a theory that lemonade helped spare Paris from an outbreak of bubonic plague. Another wave of the deadly disease was spreading through France in the late 1600s, however Paris was spared of its effects while other cities suffered. Some historians have conjectured that this was because of the lemonade vendors. The lemonade trade within the city meant there were plentiful piles of lemon peels amongst the city’s garbage. Lemons contain naturally occurring chemicals called limonene and linalool which kill fleas and larvae. While unknown at the time, bubonic plague was spread by fleas that were transferred to humans via rats. Rats, which were a common part of city life, eating the lemon peels left behind by limonadiers may have killed off the disease spreading fleas. While unproven, it remains a possible explanation.
Lemonade’s popularity increased further in the 1700s as the drink made it to other parts of Europe. In the 1780s Johan Schweppe created a new method for carbonating drinks. Building upon the invention that created carbonated water, Schweppe’s contraption used a compression pump to make carbonated water and allowed for the mass production of products like sparkling water. One of Schweppe’s products was a fizzy lemonade which became well liked since it was more accessible to consumers.
Lemonade likely made its way to the United States in the 1600s or 1700s, and in the mid- and late-1800s the drink became exceedingly popular in the U.S. due to the Temperence Movement. The Temperance Movement was a social and political movement that sought to limit the prevalence and consumption of alcohol and often promoted abstinence of drinking. Instead of alcohol, temperance organizations promoted alternative drinks and a popular choice became lemonade. For instance, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, one of the most influential temperance groups from time, had as a slogan, “Goodbye to liquor, here’s to lemonade!”
19th president Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) banned alcohol from the White House during his administration. While this move was partially a political move, it was probably partly genuine due to some influence from his wife, Lucy Hayes. Mrs. Hayes was a staunch teetotaler. As first lady she regularly hosted White House functions and at these events she served a variety of non-alcoholic drinks, many of which involved lemons. Because of this later generations gave her the nickname “Lemonade Lucy.”
The growing availability of ice and ice making during this time period also helped make lemonade more popular. In its growing popularity Americans added some twists to lemonade. One of these was adding egg whites to lemonade to make it fizzy. Another was the introduction of pink lemonade.
There are two prevailing theories as to how the pink color was added to lemonade and both involve the circus. The first is attributed to a circus performer named Henry Allott. According to his 1912 obituary Allott accidentally invented pink lemonade when he dropped some red-colored cinnamon candies into a vat of lemonade which he was serving at a circus concession stand. The candies turned the lemonade a pink color and he sold it with its rosy hue to satisfied customers.
The second theory comes from the book, The Ways of the Circus: Being the Memories and Adventures of George Conklin Tamer of Lions. In one part the book’s subject, George Conklin, claims his brother, Pete Conklin, came up with pink lemonade in 1857. While selling concessions at one show he ran out of lemonade. In his desperation to find some water to make more to appease an impatient line of attendees, he grabbed a tub of dirty water that a performer had just used to wash her red tights. The washing had turned the water a pinkish color, so Conklin used it to make a fresh batch calling it “strawberry lemonade.” According to the story sales doubled that day. Whether these stories are true is unclear, but the invention or promotion of pink lemonade appears to be linked to the circus.
Lemonade remains a popular drink today whether fresh squeezed at home or made at festivals, fairs, and events of all kinds. In addition to being a refreshing drink lemonade has come to have other symbolic meanings attached to it. Lemonade stands operated by kids during the summertime are sometimes an introduction to the world of money and business for children, hopefully helping set them on a path to good financial stewardship. Most everyone has heard the phrase, “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.” The drink has come to symbolize ingenuity and perseverance, and some facets of lemonade’s history prove this maxim to be true amongst the people that have enjoyed it through the centuries.
Chandler Hansen grew up and lives in Easton, NY. He is a graduate of Gordon College where he earned a bachelor’s degree in History. He serves as a writer and editor for Morning Ag Clips.